In the interior and architecture industry, the spotlight is often on dynamic design hubs like Copenhagen and Milan. Here’s a round-up of thriving yet underrated creative cities that you should also keep an eye on, and the sites to check out when you visit!
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
Mention Mexican design and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who does not include its traditional crafts, like textiles and basketry, in the discussion. However, the city’s crowning as the World Design Capital of 2018, and its annual Design Week Mexico, have shifted the world’s attention from these typical, albeit significant, elements to modern Mexico. Many consider Luis Barragan, one of Mexico’s greatest architects, to have contributed to this. Luis combined the country’s colourful heritage with his simplistic and blocky homes, which you can experience at his home and studio in the Miguel Hidalgo district.
Other great buildings around the city include the Torre Reforma, a three-sided skyscraper situated on Paseo de la Reforma, a wide avenue that’s home to many other iconic structures. The “holes” you see on the concrete facade designed by Benjamin Romano of LBR & A are actually tripleheight windows that allow the building to bend without breaking – a thoughtful design for this earthquake-prone city.
You should also visit the towering steel shelf structures of the Biblioteca Vasconcelos library, as well as Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), whose prominent Neoclassical facade and Art Deco interiors give insight to the city’s history.
Bilbao is not exactly under the radar, thanks to Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum. When it opened two decades ago, the silver sculptural structure – and its spider companion, Louise Bourgeois’ Maman – boosted Bilbao’s tourism industry (this was later coined The Bilbao Effect) and was even featured in one James Bond film.
However, Frank Gehry was not the only starchitect to create change for Bilbao. Zaha Hadid designed the Zorrotzaurre, an artificial peninsula-turned-island that is meant to promote creative and cultural activities; and if you are dining at one of Bilbao’s restaurants, you might be served water in a slanted ceramic jug designed by Patricia Urquiola. The H20 Bilbao is her reinterpretation of the wooden Kaiku jug.
And, besides also being a Unesco City of Design, Bilbao has one other connection to Singapore: The Bilbao City Hall won the inaugural Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize in 2010, which recognises urban transformation and city excellence.
We are only months away from the opening of Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum in Dundee. The museum sits overlooking River Tay, where the stunning water reflection visually doubles the already imposing size of the sci-fi-esque, Kengo Kuma-designed building. It’s Scotland’s first design museum and V&A’s first branch outside London – clearly, Dundee is on the cusp of something big, and all eyes are on it.
For the creatives of Dundee, this spotlight is a long time coming. The city has roots in the jute textile industry, but is now applying design in all aspects of life. There’s the always-packed Pechakucha nights organised by Creative Dundee, where thinkers and doers share ideas in a quick image-led format; the 2016 Designs on Justice collaboration, which saw law and art & design students re-thinking the criminal justice system; and this year’s Dundee Design Festival, whose theme explores makers, machines and the future of manufacturing. We can’t see what else Dundee has in store for us!
The rise and popularity of Afro-futurism has instilled a pride in African culture like never before, which is especially exciting for upand- coming designers. In Kenya, where there is a strong culture of entrepreneurship – it contributes 5.5 per cent to Kenya’s Gross National Product – Nairobi, in particular, is set to experience a bright future. In the last several years, Nairobi has seen a surge of designers, mostly working with start-ups and NGOs. The recent Pechakucha launch, the Go Down Arts Centre which is a warehouse converted into artists’ studios, and events like Make a Day of It, where designers and makers share their process with the public, are part of the resourceful and imaginative creative scene.
Some notable names spearheading the movement include Tosh Juma, the founder of the Nairobi Design Institute – his first cohort of designthinkers graduated earlier this year – and Mark Kamau of BRCK who, alongside other tech whizzes, wants to improve Wi-Fi access in Africa.
CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
We are no strangers to Thai design; the annual Singapore Design Week as well as local retail stores often introduce its visitors to made-in-Thailand furniture from popular Bangkok brands like Atelier 2+ and PDM Studio. Well, the capital may have paved the way for global interest, but we say it is now time to set our sights on the creative hub of Chiang Mai.
There are no shortages of galleries and festivals that showcase emerging talents, such as Moonler Collection Co, which often combine their contemporary designs with traditional craftsmanship. Baan Kang Wat is one of them – visit not only to see its craft studios and cafes, but also to admire the kampung-inspired architecture.
There’s also the newly opened MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, which counts works by the famous Montien Boonma – said to have shone the light on modern Thai art – as part of its permanent collection. And lifestyle brands like Woo Cafe & Art Gallery, and boutique hotels like 137 Pillars House and The Artel Nimman, add to the vibrant and creative atmosphere.
Of course, any burgeoning art scene would have its own Design Week. Chiang Mai’s is organised by Thailand Creative & Design Center, whose branch here offers design enthusiasts and brand owners a suite of resources, like books and seminars.
Text ELIZA HAMIZAH